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Open Access Research article

Maternal and health care workers’ perceptions of the effects of exclusive breastfeeding by HIV positive mothers on maternal and infant health in Blantyre, Malawi

Ursula K Kafulafula1*, Mary K Hutchinson2, Susan Gennaro3 and Sally Guttmacher2

  • * Corresponding author: Ursula K Kafulafula ukafula@yahoo.com

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Kamuzu College of Nursing, P.O. Box 415, Blantyre, Malawi

2 New York University School of Nursing, 726 Broadway, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10003, USA

3 Boston College, Connell School of Nursing, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:247  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-247

Published: 25 July 2014

Abstract

Background

HIV-positive mothers are likely to exclusively breastfeed if they perceive exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) beneficial to them and their infants. Nevertheless, very little is known in Malawi about HIV-positive mothers’ perceptions regarding EBF. In order to effectively promote EBF among these mothers, it is important to first understand their perceptions on benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. This study therefore, explored maternal and health care workers’ perceptions of the effects of exclusive breastfeeding on HIV-positive mothers’ health and that of their infants.

Methods

This was a qualitative study within a larger project. Face-to-face in-depth interviews and focus group discussions using a semi- structured interview and focus group guide were conducted. Sixteen HIV-positive breastfeeding mothers, between 18 and 35 years old, were interviewed and data saturation was achieved. Two focus group discussions (FGDs) comprising of five and six adult women of unknown HIV status who were personal assistants to maternity patients, and one FGD with five nurse-midwives working in the maternity wards of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, were also conducted. Thematic content data analysis was utilized.

Results

The study revealed more positive than negative perceived effects of exclusive breastfeeding. However, the fear of transmitting HIV to infants through breast milk featured strongly in the study participants’ reports including those of the nurse-midwives. Only one nurse-midwife and a few HIV-positive mothers believed that EBF prevents mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Furthermore, participants, especially the HIV-positive mothers felt that exclusive breastfeeding leads to maternal ill- health and would accelerate their progression to full blown AIDS.

Conclusion

While most participants considered exclusive breastfeeding as an important component of the wellbeing of their infants’ health, they did not share the worldwide acknowledged benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. These results suggest a need for more breastfeeding education for all mothers, communities and nurse-midwives involved in breastfeeding counseling in the context of HIV infection. Maternal wellbeing promotion activities such as nutrition supplementation need to be included in all PMTCT of HIV programs.

Keywords:
Perceived effects of exclusive breastfeeding; HIV-positive mothers; Maternal health; Infant health; Malawi